Texas will challenge IndyCar teams with a nearly 24-hour workday

Leave a comment

Saturday night’s IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway will be a sprint completed in less than two hours, but Felix Rosenqvist is treating the season opener like a marathon.

The Swedish driver will head to the airport in Indianapolis at 6 a.m. Friday.

He will arrive at the 1.5-mile oval north of Fort Worth a few hours later for a nine-hour whirlwind of practice, qualifying and a 200-lap race Saturday.

Then he’ll hop on a flight that won’t get him home to Indy until probably 2 a.m. Sunday.

Welcome to an exhausting start to 2020 (which already has felt too long in many ways).

GENESYS 300: IndyCar opener, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC or click here for stream

DETAILED RUNDOWN: All the info for Saturday’s race

“It’s a long day, and people are going to be knackered after that,” Rosenqvist, who is eager to get to Texas to continue his improvement on ovals, told NBCSports.com. “ When you set your mind to it, it’s like doing a 24-hour race. I’ve done a bunch of those. It’s the same kind of deal. Once you’re there, you get through it and take one hour at a time, and finally you’re done. I think it will be fine.”

On the 76th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, the NTT IndyCar Series will be facing its own version of “The Longest Day” Saturday in Texas.

Most teams are scheduled to leave Indianapolis on chartered flights before dawn Saturday morning to Alliance Airport (about 5 miles from Texas Motor Speedway). They will arrive at Texas Motor Speedway by mid-morning, get processed through health screenings and then spend a long arduous day in oppressive heat that likely will reach the high 90s.

A rainbow formed over the Texas Motor Speedway garage last year after a storm hit the track on an IndyCar practice day. IndyCar teams will be spread across both of the tracks garages Saturday (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“That’s a brutal day,” said Graham Rahal, who is one of many drivers who will be arriving Friday night. “I hope everybody is getting their sleep now. I know a lot of guys have a ton of adrenaline going because they want to go racing, too, and they’re prepared. But it’s going to be a pretty tiring exercise for everybody.”

Said James Hinchcliffe, who traveled Thursday to Texas because of obligations for Genesys, which is sponsoring both his car (in the first of three races) and also is Texas’ title sponsor: “It’s obviously going to be a strenuous day for everybody. The guys that are flying in that morning, and then we don’t have a green flag until (8:05 p.m. ET), that makes for a very long day for everybody, in the nice, cool, dry Texas climate that we normally experience in June.

“The thing is we’ve had races that were rained out on a Saturday or a Sunday and had to be run the next day, and we’ve had events where we’ve had to cram a lot into a single day, so it’s not completely uncharted water for us. Getting through a day with a practice session, a qualifying and a race isn’t the end of the world. It’s definitely a long day because it’s a night race, but I think the crews and the drivers have handled similar situations before, and I don’t think it’s going to be too big an issue.”

Swedish drivers Felix Rosenqvist (left) and Marcus Ericsson share a laugh before qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway last season. Rosenqvist and Ericsson are teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing this year. (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Team owner Ed Carpenter said it’s a less than ideal scenario to travel race morning but with teams trying to limit overnight travel during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there isn’t much choice.

“It will be nearly a 24-hour day by the time (team personnel) get home,” Carpenter said Thursday, noting teams are taking the unusual step of having three meals available for their teams. “We’ve had a lot of questions and thought about how that’s going to work from when we land to what the processes are getting into the track, how we’re feeding our people with all the PPE and masks that are required, what are the rules as far as getting some fresh air for guys that are going to be outside in nearly 100-degree heat.

“It’s going to be a quick cadence to the event. There’s not a whole lot of time between when we get there and tech inspection, practice, track, qualifying, race, the impound process. There’s been a lot of communication behind the scenes between IndyCar, the teams, the teams and employees, of what the expectations are because it’s very important that we do this right and safely to be able to continue our season.”

Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull said the trip to Texas is IndyCar’s “version of driving to Darlington,” noting it isn’t that dissimilar from the travel involved for NASCAR’s return because the chartered flights will eliminate extra time at gates and security.

“We also have to go through all the safety checks (at the track), and that’s probably the most difficult part for everybody to stand in line,” Hull told NBCSports.com. “That might be the most tedious thing of the whole day, really, because once we’re inside and go to work, practicing social distancing will be a standard for everyone in the garage area.”

Team Penske president Tim Cindric calling strategy at Texas last year (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Team Penske president Tim Cindric said his North Carolina-based team will be following a similar itinerary (with a slightly longer flight from an airport near its Mooresville, North Carolina, shop).

“We’re going to leave before the sun comes up for sure, go through all of our screenings and protocols before we take off and then go through that process just to get into the racetrack,” Cindric said. “It’s going to be a long day without a doubt, but we wouldn’t trade it.

“I don’t want to be home on Saturday. I’d much rather be at Texas.”

So will Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will spend Friday night in his motor home at the track to be well rested.

“Not only are we going straight into one of the fastest tracks we go to, but we’re going into one of the longest days I think all of us will experience,” the 2012 champion said. “So it’s ramping up quickly. I think it’ll be tough for the drivers physically.

“But we’re doing this to get it in, to get the racing back to where the IndyCar season starts and to get it on TV for our fans. This is what we have to do right now, and I think everybody is up for the task. We’re just looking forward to putting the helmet on, shutting the visor and going for it.”

SATURDAY INDYCAR START TIMES AND TV SCHEDULE:

IndyCar practice: 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying5 p.m., NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold

Countdown to Green: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

IndyCar Genesys 3008 p.m., NBC

IndyCar postrace coverage: 10 p.m., NBCSN

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.